Last summer in Haarlem (The Netherlands) I attended a concert of a group that back then was named Mayday. Since I loved their music I even bought their CD and now I believe I have the one and only copy in the whole Italy! Recently I visited their website and discovered they changed their name in Fifth Lane, apparently because they had a trademark conflict. Read the rest of this entry »
Eastern of Amsterdam used to be the Zuiderzee, a shallow inlet of the North Sea, like a gigantic bay 50 Km wide and 100 Km long. This used to be a danger for The Netherlands and in fact flooded several time in the past centuries. After the last flood in 1916, the Dutch decided to build a huge dike and close the Zuiderzee. In 1932 thirty kilometers of dike running through the water were completed, closing off the North Sea and forming the IJsselmeer lake, that then turned into fresh water. During the 20th century wide chunks of IJsselmeer were transformed in polders and reclaimed to the sea, transformed in land. Moreover the IJsselmeer has been split by an additional dike, forming the Markermeer.
There is a popular saying that God created the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands, and when you traverse IJsselmeer on the dike and drive through Flevoland you really understand what this means. Reclaiming land from the sea, fighting to keep water out of the land, is an impressive endevour and makes you think about the never ending challenge between mankind and the forces of nature. There, where land, water and sky merge in a total whole, you finally feel that Planet Earth is a very big place to live.
While driving you can see people a lot of cyclers (by the way: even dikes and roads lost in the middle of nowhere have at least one lane reserved to bicycles), birds, gigantic wind power farms, fisher villages, windmills. Did you know windmills are pumps? They were used to pump water out of the polders and pushing to the sea, to reclaim land. Weren’t for the strong constant wind flowing in this place, bug chunks of Netherland would be under water. This in another impressive engineering achievement, especially if you think they began to use windmills six centuries ago. Of course nowadays they use electrical pumps.
When you tell your friends you’ve been to Amsterdam they immediately start jokes about hemp and prostitutes in the red light district. It is unfortunate this city built up such a bad reputation, because actually there are better reasons to visit it. Nowadays the red light district is more a tourist attraction than a dangerous place. At night you can see families walk there with babies and strollers, as well as crowds of Japanese elders following the guide with the flag in her hand while looking at the ladies behind windows. You immediately lose any lust or transgression will.
Amsterdam is built on canals, not so different than Venice, except that bridges in Amsterdam have no staircases and houses always have a little street between the canal and their facade. This allows Amsterdammers to easily move on a bicycle. The whole city has been developed as a series of concentric semicircular canals. While Manhattan is a Cartesian city (you identify places by street, avenue pairs, that actually work the same as x,y coordinates), Amsterdam uses a polar system (ρ,θ). You know, I’m a geek so be patient Put in easier words you have to think in terms of which angle you have to rotate around the Dam, and how far you are from there. By the way, New York used to be a Dutch colony and was called New Amsterdam, before being sold to the English. And moreover Harlem and Brooklyn both inherited their name from cities in The Netherlands.
Four thousands kilometers in thirteen days, across Switzerland, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. It’s been a long and amazing trip, visiting wonderful cities, looking at breathtaking landscapes, having great meals and unfortunately a lot of rain showers. We mostly followed the path of two major central European rivers: Rhine and Meuse. Rhine (Rijn in NL) springs up in Switzerland and flows in the North Sea, traversing Germany and forming a large delta in The Netherlands after a long path of 1320 kilometers. Meuse (Maas in NL) springs up in France and runs 925 kilometers across Luxembourg and Belgium before finally draining in the same delta.
A great deal of history happened along these two rivers and in particular they have big symbolic value for Europe: they delimit the field where France and Germany fought for centuries (including two world wars) but they also merge in The Netherlands thus keeping Europe together. No wonder most of the European and international institutions are in this valley: Strasbourg, Brussels, The Hague. This is also the place where bishops used to be rulers and the Protestant Reformation developed, and the place where many renowned beers are produced.
To complete our tour we visited Geneva (again on a river, this time the Rhone) and the United Nations palace!
I’m posting more pictures and details, stay tuned!
UPDATE: here is the photoalbum
I love traveling. I love traveling without a detailed plan, without booking rooms, just wandering around and following the flow of my mind. The perfect travel is driving with a Lonely Planet guide in your pocket, a friend to chat with and just a vague idea of where you’re heading to. When you see something interesting you stop. There’s no hurry, no pressure to reach the next target, you can just sleep anywhere there is a room to rent, including places in the middle of nowhere that you didn’t even knew they existed.